I got my first taste of Boy Scouts in first or second grade. A friend of mine was a member of a local Cub Scout unit. Of course, I just had to be a member, too. For whatever reason, I ended up fading out of that pack. It wasn’t until fourth grade that my interests were piqued again. This time, several friends of mine at South Fork Elementary were members of the Cub Scout Pack 715, their home base the church right next-door to the school. I became a member, and that’s where I stayed, eventually working my way into Boy Scout Troop 715.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my childhood and adolescent experience in the Boy Scouts. The lessons, values, principles and ideals imparted to me there have become part-and-parcel of my being. They will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, my involvement with the Boy Scouts of America couldn’t last the same lifetime.
After I came out of the closet, I was dismissed from Scouting. I’ll save you the gory details — a lot of nasty, behind-the-scenes and bureaucratic red-tape things were said and done, that’s all you need to know. (Some background via old press clips here, here, here, here and here.)
What I will tell you, though, is just how the feelings of abandonment, rejection and betrayal that I felt as a 14-year-old recently-out gay kid are just as strong today as they were then. My troop’s scoutmasters, other leaders and my peers were more than mentors and friends. Many of them were family. Never in a million years would my naive, young mind have anticipated the actions of my adult leaders and friends. Just as the lessons the Scouts gave me will be with me for the rest of my life, so, too, will the hurt they left in my youthful heart and soul.
A couple weeks ago, I was emboldened and encouraged when I read Scouting magazine’s editor, Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, posting about GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week. I wrote in a post for the day-job:
There even seems to be a breath of fresh air in some of the most ardently anti-gay organizations. Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, the senior editor of the official Boy Scouts of America Scouting magazine blogged on Monday about No Name Calling Week. That the Boy Scouts, who still hold virulently anti-gay policies that prohibit openly gay or bisexual youth and young men from membership and leadership roles, would openly discuss and promote an anti-bullying event sponsored by an LGBT organization is a sure sign of progress. Young people — no doubt influenced by their many peers organizing in high school or college LGBT student organizations — are making strides to make their communities, organizations and, ultimately, our nation a better place.
Today — Feb. 8, 2012 — the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 102nd birthday. As another year passes and the organization becomes older, I wish for it to become wiser. As younger members — like Scouting‘s Wendell — rise into adult leadership positions, I have hope that they will.
The Boy Scouts of America is a great organization. The work they have done building up the lives and spirits of America’s boys and young men is gargantuan. The annals of history are filled with the good deeds of men who learned their first lessons in patriotism, loyalty, honesty and dedication from their childhoods in the Boy Scouts.
On this birthday, I wish only the best for the Boy Scouts of America — that, in time, they grow to understand the true value of their essential mission and its importance to the lives of America’s boys and young men, and that they come to uphold the promise they made in their first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook in 1911, that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”
I might not have ever had the opportunity to earn my Eagle Scout award, but in the future, perhaps, other gay young men will.
When you blow out your candles today, Boy Scouts, I hope your wish is the same as mine — that your friends and all of the boys and young men who follow you will be treated with the dignity, respect, love, friendship, brotherhood and acceptance that they deserve.